I spent two weeks in Japan for my honeymoon this year and kept my eyes peeled for things Japanese people do that popcorn chicken munching Americans could take a page from. After all, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, so they must be doing a few things better right?
Surprisingly, one of the first things I noticed was the prevalence of sugar everywhere. Ads for sugar snacks dotted the trains and some of the easiest on-the-go foods are sugary coffee and pastries. This gave me an important reminder that few cultures have escaped the prevalence of our globalized corporate junk food, so, you’re welcome rest of the world! As fast as we try to learn from these “Blue Zones” of health, we’re just as quickly damaging their health by spreading our industrialized eating traditions. Side note: Starbucks is the ULTIMATE globalization brand. I saw 15 Starbucks for every McDonalds.
The crumbling of global health due to Pumpkin Spice Lattes aside, I did notice a lot of lesser-known habits that we might want to try ourselves.
- They wipe their hands with a hot towel before a meal. This seems better than using antibacterial gel, which messes with our healthy bacteria and breeds super germs. (However, sometimes they just use wet wipes, which I imagine are full of chemicals.)
- They usually wear socks or slippers indoors. Could be good for diabetics!
- Eating on the go is considered rude in certain areas. I can’t say this applies to the whole country, but when we were in Tokyo we became very self-conscious whenever we drank coffee on the train or carried pastries around with us. Most people seemed to stop in a purposeful place, like a park bench, eat their food, and then keep going. Definitely a more mindful way to eat.
- Their butt hygiene is unparalleled. Those smart toilets have to bring some health benefits right? Maybe like how flossing is related to hearth health, bidet-washing could increase brain health?! Maybe … ?
- Also, in some major areas like parks, temples and train stations, toilets are squat toilets. Apparently, squatting to go potty can help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids, so take that, modern porcelain throne! They’ve got the best of both worlds.
- A lot of junk foods are flavored with matcha, which is a major superfood full of antioxidants. That’s kind of like if our candy, ice cream and pancakes were flavored with spirulina or chlorella instead of artificial flavors. That said, I imagine a fair amount of matcha flavoring is artificial.
- Fermented foods are a huge part of the diet. Umeboshi (pickled plums), miso and sushi ginger are just a few of the fermented foods you’ll enjoy regularly in Japan. A lot of food comes with an array of pickled vegetables, and markets are full of them. These flavors and condiments are definitely better for the gut than ketchup!
So, drink tea, eat your pickles and for gosh sakes, don’t eat on the go!